Appius Claudius Caudex

Now besieged inside Messana, Appius Claudius Caudex had limited options. He was likely a supporter of the war as he was an idle consul wanting to garner more gloria and dignitas – and successful military endeavors were a surefire way of attaining both. However, he also knew that a war with Carthage (and with Syracuse tagging along as well) would not be a simple affair. He sent peace feelers to both the Carthaginian and Syracusan camps to see if Messana could remain in Roman hands but everything essentially returning to the status quo. The Carthaginians did not agree to terms and Heiro would have none of it. Likely seeing the true motives of the Romans involvement in Sicily his response is recorded as follows by Diodorus Siculus.

Hiero replied that the Mamertines, who had laid waste Camarina and Gela and had seized Messana in so impious a manner, were besieged with just cause, and that the Romans, harping as they did on the word fides, certainly ought not to protect assassins who had shown the greatest contempt for good faith; but if, on behalf of men so utterly godless, they should enter upon a war of such magnitude, it would be clear to all mankind that they were using pity for the imperilled as a cloak for their own advantage, and that in reality they coveted Sicily. (Diodorus Siculus 23.1)1

With both forces continuing the siege and with no real prospect of reinforcements as the Carthaginians still controlled the straits, Appius decided not to weather the storm and sallied out. He first struck out against Hiero and the Syracusan forces and defeated them after a contested battle. Hiero was forced to retreat and he retired with the remainder of his army back to Syracuse in due time. Appius likely entered Messana with a full consular army (which would be about 20,000 soldiers divided into two roman legions, two allied Italian legions, and some contingents of cavalry) and had enough strength to combat the Carthaginian forces still besieging the opposite side of the city. This is exactly what he did on the next day.

Once again the Roman forces were victorious as Messana was left in Roman hands. With the Carthaginians pushed back, Appius went on the offensive and campaigned in eastern Sicily against Syracusan holdings. Diodorus Siculus records that Appius attempted to take the town of Echetla but suffered disproportionate losses. It is also unclear as to whether Appius began the Roman siege against Syracuse itself. What we do know for sure is that the city of Messana was clearly in Roman hands when the consuls for the next year (263) took command of the situation.

It is interesting to note that Appius Claudius’ cognomen Caudex refers to the trunk of tree (but apparently metaphorically meant thickheaded or something along those lines.) Of course, by this time, the cognomen was usually inherited and did not always represent a personal nickname. Even though he did relieve Messana successfully by driving off both the Carthaginians and Syracusans (some ancient sources did try to spin these into Roman tactical losses, though I’m not sure how that could be possible as politically Messana never fell out of Roman hands), he never did celebrate a Roman triumph. The other consul governing with Appius, Marcus Fulvius Flaccus, did celebrate a triumph that year for bringing the rebellious (the last) Etruscan city of Volsinii under control. (Thanks go to for its translation of the Fasti Triumphales.)2 This likely means that Appius’ initial successes were followed by a subpar offensive against Syracusan territory or he may have even been forced back to Messana and await reinforcements.

Despite not receiving a triumph Appius Claudius Caudex did achieve what he was set off to do which was to aid and relieve the Mamertines of Messana. He did do his part to avoid conflict in a last-ditch effort to negotiate a settlement (though there was no real expectation of an agreement) and followed through with decisive action. Though we know little else of Appius Claudius Caudex, if the following exhortation recorded by Cassius Dio bears any resemblance to what Appius would have said, we can see the kind of inspirational leader he was to his men. As the Romans were prevented from crossing the straits from Rhegium to Messana by the Carthaginian fleet Appius encouraged his men in this way.

The consul Claudius exhorted the soldiers moreover to be of good cheer and not to be cast down over the defeat of the tribune. He showed them that victories fall to the lot of the better-equipped, but that their own valour was far better than the skill of their opponents. They would soon acquire the science of seafaring, whereas the Carthaginians would never have bravery equal to theirs. For skill was something that could be obtained in a short time by men who gave their minds to it, and could be mastered by practice; but bravery, in case it were lacking in a man’s nature, could never be furnished by instruction. (Cassius Dio 11.43.11)3

1. Diodorus Siculus. Library of History. Translated by Francis Walton. 1957. Reprinted at LacusCurtius. Retrieved January 25, 2016.
2. Fasti Triumphales. Retrieved January 25, 2016.
3. Cassius Dio. Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. 1914. Print.